The newest installment of our series now focuses on the greatest non-Finals NBA playoff performances. Considering the amount of playoff appearances and the amount of Finals games the Lakers have played, splitting the two up is definitely feasible.
10. James Worthy vs. Houston – Game 1 of First Round 1990
Stats – 34 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 17-22 FG
Big Game James rightfully got his nickname for his ability to come up with big plays and big games when most needed. In fact, his scoring increased by four points a game come playoff time. And with the Lakers are the coattails of the Showtime Era and looking for one last Finals run, Worthy provided a supremely efficient effort. His 77% field goal percentage is the highest for anyone scoring at least that many points in Lakers history. Unfortunately for Worthy and the Lakers, his play and theirs deteriorated the deeper they got into the playoffs, ending in a second round elimination.
9. Kobe Bryant vs. Nuggets – Game 2 of Conference Semifinals 2008
Stats – 49 points, 10 assists, 18-27 FG, 5-9 3PT, 8-9 FT
In Pau’s first playoff run with the Lakers, Kobe was oft-criticized for his perceived likeliness to shoot rather than pass. On this night, he had everything going. His 49 points is his second best playoff output and his 10 assists is the 3rd most in a playoff game. And he was deadly efficient on the night, missing just nine shots. The Lakers would go on to sweep the Nuggets en route to their first Finals berth of the Kobe-Pau era.
8. Pau Gasol vs. Nuggets – Game 1 of First Round 2008
Stats – 36 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, 14-20 FG, 8-8 FT
Compared to other Lakers greats, Pau has had a short tenure with the Lakers. But that hasn’t stopped him from providing many a memorable playoff moment. Arguably none was better than his first playoff game with the Lakers. His 36 point outburst is his most in the playoffs, and paired with his 16 rebounds and 8 assists, he was absolutely magnificent. His play was integral in getting the Lakers not only to the Finals that year, but to two more after that.
7. Derek Fisher vs. Spurs – Game 4 of Conference Finals 2001
Stats – 28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 11-13 FG, 6-7 3PT
Raise your hand if you knew Derek Fisher had 25-point game in the playoffs. Raise your hand if your surprised he had one. While I was unaware of Fisher’s 28-point outburst, it doesn’t surprise me that Fisher came up huge in a Lakers playoff game. Only Robert Horry is on the same pedestal in terms of clutchness with Fisher. And considering it’s a closeout game, Fisher’s performance takes on that much more magnitude. Fisher and the Lakers steamrolled all their opponents on the way to the 2001 title, losing just one game the entire playoffs.
6. Magic Johnson at Houston – Game 3 of First Round 1991
Stats – 38 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 14-20 FG, 9-9 FT
As I said, closeout games have an extra degree of pressure and, as a result, can be seen on another level. For Magic, his 1991 playoff run is what got the Lakers to the Finals. With just remnants of the Showtime Era remaining, Magic single-handedly carried the Lakers to the Finals. He averaged 21.8 points, 12.6 assists, and 8.1 rebounds during the playoffs. His 38-6-7 was a typical Magic masterpiece performance and what you’d expect out of one of the greatest Lakers of all-time.
5. Magic Johnson vs. Warriors – Game 2 of Conference Semifinals 1991
Stats – 44 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 12-23 FG, 20-22 FT
Not only will we stay in the same playoffs, but we’ll go just two games later as Magic had his greatest game during that stretch. While he wasn’t necessarily efficient, he was getting to the rim at will. His 22 free throws attempted was the most in any playoff game in his career, showing his will to win. Against the Run TMC of the Warriors, the Lakers relied on heavily on Magic, and he delivered like only Magic could.
4. Kobe Bryant at Kings – Game 4 of Conference Semifinals 2001
Stats – 48 points, 16 rebounds, 15-29 FG, 17-19 FT
No team was a bigger rival during the Lakers 2000s 3-peat than the Kings. And as a result, some of the biggest Lakers performances came from those games, specifically from Shaq and Kobe. First, his 48 points was his biggest output in a playoff game at that point. The 22-year old Kobe grew up in front of our eyes with this huge performance in the 4th game of the sweep of the Kings. For the Lakers, it was just another great performance on the way to the 2nd title.
3. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kings – Game 1 of Conference Semifinals 2001
Stats – 44 points, 21 rebounds, 7 blocks, 4 assists, 17-32 FG, 10-19 FT
One of only two of Shaq’s 40-20 games came in the 2001 showdown against the Kings. The Lakers fed the big man early and often, leading to his 32 shots as he dismantled Vlade Divac and Chris Webber down low. In the series, Shaq averaged 33.3 points and 17.2 rebounds a game, proving why his name should be listed among the greatest big men of all-time.
2. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Kings – Game 6 of Conference Finals 2002
Stats – 41 points, 17 rebounds, 14-25 FG, 13-17 FT
From a stats perspective, this isn’t Shaq’s greatest game. But given the circumstances, it was certainly one of his most memorable. With the Lakers down 3-2 in the series and their title run looking like it’d be coming to an end, the Diesel answered the call and put up one of the most memorable playoff performances. His 12 points in the 4th quarter were crucial as Shaq delivered when the Lakers needed him most.
1. Kobe Bryant vs. Suns – Game 6 of First Round 2006
Stats – 50 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 20-35 FG, 5-6 FT
Kobe takes a lot of flack for his Lakers 2006 collapse against the Suns. But Kobe went down swinging with the Lakers, including his massive performance in Game 6 that looked like it’d be enough to finish off the Suns. His layup with 29 seconds left gave the Lakers a 3-point lead, but as lots of Lakers fans remember, Tim Thomas did stupid Tim Thomas things and hit the biggest shot of his career, tying the game with 6 seconds left. But Kobe scored nearly half his points, 23 total, in the 4th quarter and overtime. His 8 rebounds and 5 assists show he wasn’t only focused on scoring, but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers would go on to lose the series in the 7th game.